11th September 2019
Just a mile to the south of Baalbeck lies a quarry from which many of the megaliths used in the building of the Roman site were carved. The size of these megaliths is mind-blowing, with one reckoned to be the biggest carved stone in the world. Yet the site was in disrepair until the efforts of one man...
The history of this quarry, a stone's throw from the site of Baalbeck, is heartwarming. Thirty years ago, during the Lebanese civil war, the site had become the town of Baalbeck’s unofficial rubbish tip. The area was strewn with everything from household rubbish to animal carcasses. Abdul Nabi al-Afi, who was a sergeant in the army, lived nearby and was shocked by how much rubbish there was. “Every time I took my leave from the army and came home, I had to pass by the quarry and every time there was more rubbish,” said Afi.
By 1991 he decided to seize the initiative and begin a big clear-up himself. He spent two years acquiring a government permit to clear the site, and then with loans from the bank and his brother-in-law, hired a bulldozer and started clearing the quarry. This was all done during his brief leave periods from the army. When he finally retired a year later, he stepped up the operation, using his army pension to beautify the area with plants and trees.
The rehabilitated site started attracting tourists, and Afi opened a small gift shop to help fund the upkeep of the site. He still cleans the site every morning and evening, worried that it will return to its previous state of disrepair without his efforts.
Today, you can visit the quarry and Asif will offer you a free coffee from his small shop. When I visited after a tour of Baalbeck, it really hit home just what an achievement Baalbeck is. There are numerous stones this size at the site, supporting the enormous Temples of Jupiter and Bacchus, and the scale of the construction is ridiculous. Why the two stones unearthed at the quarry were carved but never used remains a mystery, but it is definitely worth a visit and a chat with Asif over coffee.
Visit Baalbeck and the quarry on our Lebanon tours.